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"JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT"
(2014) (Chris Pine, Kevin Costner) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: Tom Clancy's CIA analyst Jack Ryan is sent on a mission to foil a Russian plot to devalue the U.S. dollar and collapse the world economy.
PLOT:
Following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, brilliant college student Jack Ryan (CHRIS PINE) enlists in the U.S. Marines and is gruesomely injured in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. During his long recovery, Jack meets two people who will become important in his life. The first is Cathy (KEIRA KNIGHTLEY), a young med student who helps him walk again. The second is Thomas Harper (KEVIN COSTNER), a U.S. government operative who recruits Jack into the CIA.

Ryan is placed in a major global Wall Street firm and assigned to monitor financial transactions for suspected terrorist funding activities. Flash-forward a decade later, Jack is engaged to Cathy and a bigwig at the financial firm. He uncovers a series of transactions that lead him to believe that Russia is spearheading a covert plot to devalue the American dollar and crash the world economy.

Jack is sent to Moscow to meet with investment mogul Viktor Cherevin (KENNETH BRANAGH), who he suspects is the mastermind of this plot. Jack's suspicions prove true, as Viktor reveals himself to be a Cold Warrior bent on returning his country to superpower status and plunging America into a second Great Depression with the help of an enigmatic sleeper agent named Aleksandr (ALEC UTGOFF) back in the United States. Matters are complicated when Cathy shows up at his hotel and threatens to scuttle the whole covert operation.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Jack Ryan, I guess, is now officially the American James Bond. He is an action hero who has been cast and will continue to be re-cast, re-imagined, re-oriented, and re-activated to fight whatever sick puppies this world produces. Sometimes he'll be young. Sometimes he'll be older. He started his screen life as a young, upstart, CIA Cold Warrior, helping a Soviet-era submarine commander defect. In his next movie, he had quit the Agency, taken on a teaching job at the U.S. Naval Academy, and foiled an IRA plot against a British royal while on vay-cay. One film later, he was back in the CIA uncovering a plot within the U.S. government to wage a secret war against Colombian drug cartels. Then, he got younger and found himself racing against time to stop a nuclear bomb from detonating at the Super Bowl.

Then, Jack Ryan went away. And the world got more dangerous and creepy with terrorists and terrorist cells threatening American interests all over the world. Cyber-terrorism emerged as an increasingly real threat. And Russian organized crime started to flex its muscle. "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" does a really nice job updating the all-purpose Tom Clancy character. Now, Ryan (Chris Pine taking over for Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck) is a man who never served in Vietnam and never had to cast a wary eye towards the hammer and sickle. Instead, he's a man who watched the Twin Towers fall in college, volunteered for the Marines, and was shot down in Afghanistan.

He's still a character who had to recover from a broken back and would go on to fall for a young eye surgeon. But now, he is an undercover operative on Wall Street, scanning financial transactions and looking for any irregularities that might be terrorist funding plots. He comes across a mammoth one involving Russia looking to time a terrorist attack in Lower Manhattan with a massive stock sell-off to de-value the U.S. dollar and crash the world economy. And of course ... say it with me now ... only Jack Ryan can stop it!

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, "Shadow Recruit" is two-thirds a great spy thriller and one-third standard Hollywood hokum. I definitely liked it enough to recommend it. But I wish the film's third act wasn't so tailored to provide spectacle and stunts for easy-sell trailers and TV commercials. I much prefer my spy junk like "No Way Out" or "Breach," slow-burn capers where the walls close in over time and the covert hijinks are kept within the walls of power.

When it's good, though, it's really good. And the major roles are extremely well cast, especially Kevin Costner as Jack's CIA mentor and Branagh himself playing Viktor, a formidable Russian baddie who dreams of returning Mother Russia to superpower status before he dies of a terminal liver disease. The film's best sequence has Jack's fiancée, Cathy (Keira Knightley), having to keep Viktor occupied at dinner while Jack uses the man's security card to break into his nearby office building and steal important data from his hard drive. It's a real nail-biter and ends in extremely clever fashion.

Less involving is when the stakes are raised for the film's big action climax in New York. Maybe it's just me. But I find it a lot more tense when it's a handful of good actors engaging in a battle of wits involving seduction, deception, slight-of-hand, and such than Jack Ryan on a motorcycle chasing a van filled with explosives and driven by a terrorist looking to blow Wall Street to Kingdom Come.

The takeaway from this film, though, is that the Jack Ryan franchise has been revitalized. Pine quickly and rather effortlessly makes the part his own, bringing both smarts and physical prowess to the role. I have no idea why this is a mid-January release when the only cold war Ryan will be waging is against the weather forecasts. But I rate "Shadow Recruit" a very solid 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed January 15, 2014 / Posted January 17, 2014


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